HOW TO KICK-OFF A WRITING PROJECT: PART ONE — THE PROCESS
HOW TO KICK-OFF A WRITING PROJECT: PART ONE — THE PROCESS
When starting a new project, one of the most important first steps is the kick-off meeting.
Leading a kick-off meeting for a writing project requires lots of preparation—and patience—on the part of the project manager and the project team. The meeting brings together all stakeholders and sets the tone for the entire project.
The writing process can involve a lot of back and forth between project managers and clients, so a well-run kick-off meeting is essential. Whether you’re a marketing manager, a content manager, or a thought leadership strategist, the time and effort you put into planning a kick-off meeting will pay off in the end.
Launching a writing project often involves two distinct activities: explaining how the writing process works and gathering information for the product.
In the first part of this blog, we focus on getting everyone on the same page regarding how the writing process will proceed. A lot of people who write skip over the process part because they assume that their colleagues in other departments, notably subject matter experts (SMEs), already understand the purpose of the project and the writing process. Writers are known to go straight into the information gathering part, failing to set up the project correctly and leaving important stakeholders totally confused and frustrated.
Before the Meeting
- Determine who needs to be in the meeting and invite them. Arrange for remote video or audio access for any team members or stakeholders who cannot be present in person.
- Decide if the project team needs to have a “meeting before the meeting” with the major stakeholder—the client, be they internal to the company or external. A meeting before facing the client could give team members more confidence and present a more united, polished stance at the formal kick-off meeting.
- Draft an agenda and send it out ahead of time. The invitation should state clearly the purpose of the meeting and how invitees should prepare. The agenda could be at a high level—including only the meeting elements outlined below, or more detailed, depending on the complexity of the writing project.
- Assign a scribe (notetaker) for the meeting. This person will be responsible for drafting the meeting notes, which you as the project manager will review and send out to all attendees. Recording the meeting, if all parties agree, can be helpful, too.
Not everyone will know everyone else in attendance. Start by introducing yourself and let others introduce themselves and give brief comments about their role and responsibilities on the project. (Any uncertainty can be cleared up in the following two discussions.)
The background and scope of the project also may not be known to all attendees. It will be important to devote a few minutes to ensuring that all stakeholders have a shared understanding of what the final written product—website, blog, newsletter, video script, white paper—will be.
This will be the most important part of the meeting. Each stakeholder needs to understand how you will shepherd the writing process and what each person’s role will be.
SMEs will require special attention. They often are reluctant writers and understand little of the process of creating a written product. (More about coaxing information out of them in Part Two.)
For their part, writers often take the process for granted and don’t explain it. It will fall to you to explain the multi-faceted process of creating a well-crafted product that exceeds the client’s expectations.
- What is the purpose of the project? A lot of SMEs don’t know WHY they should contribute to a blog, for example, or TO WHOM a whitepaper would go and WHAT the end product looks like. Here, you might need to show them some examples and talk about the purpose of each.
- What is the role of the writer and the role of the SME? How do they interact? How can they benefit from each other in a win-win situation? A lot of SMEs have never worked with a writer. The project may seem as foreign to them as it feels natural for the writer.
- What are edits, and what type of edits should SMEs and the client expect? You will need to explain the difference between “big picture” and “little picture” edits. The former address a written product’s overall organization, flow, and consistency; big picture edits also ensure that the written product follows the desired or required writing style and conveys the appropriate tone (approach to the reader) and voice (author’s point of view). Little picture edits correct errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and can also involve a line by line look at word choices and how they are used in each sentence.
- What is proofreading, who does it, and why does it come AT THE END? Proofing is the final check before a product goes out the door. Ideally, both big and small picture edits are complete and the product is ready for this last stage of the process. The proofer should always be someone who has not had any role in creating the written product.
- What kind of information is needed for the product and how it will be gathered? This can be a short discussion. Details on information gathering can best be handled in follow up emails or one-on-one meetings.
Take a few minutes to give a brief overview of project milestones.
Discuss the plan for communicating during the project. Points of contact should be confirmed as well as communication methods, including how often meetings, virtual or in-person, will occur.
Give everyone a chance to ask questions. Don’t be surprised if there needs to be even more clarification of the process and the product.
End with a discussion of WHO will be responsible for doing WHAT next. Announce that you will be sending out meetings notes and thank everyone for their participation.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork for your writing project with a successful kick-off meeting, it’s time to move on to the next phase: information gathering.
Part Two of this blog guides you through the process of eliciting information from the client and within your organization.
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